Age is only a number. As you get older you get wiser. Youth is wasted on the young. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. From day dot we’re told that our thinking and capacity to learn shifts and broadens as we get older and then slowly withers and rots as we age.
With this in mind it is really no wonder that the four generations currently engaged in our global workforce view each other with a mix distrust and cynicism. With at least 20 odd years dividing each group, for all generations there are clear cultural and social difference between how different age groups think and behave.
This diversity of perspective and lived experiences can make for an exceptional mix of innovation, critical thinking and expertise. But it can also manifest in workplace tensions, colleagues not seeing eye to eye, and ultimately a lack of teamwork and productivity.
In the workplace, this means vastly varied approaches to tasks, communication and perception of their careers and job roles.
So, noting of course that no two people are the same and there will be stereotyping involved, who are the four generations currently engaged in our workplace?
Baby Boomers. This hardworking and community-minded generation now in their mid 50s to early 60s, often define themselves by their career role. While they try and achieve some semblance of work-life balance, they prioritise their career and consider a typical working day to be 8am–5pm.
Generation X. Now in their mid-30s to early 50s, are educated, flexible and fiercely independent. Driven by success, they value being able to work without supervision in order to show their capabilities and worth.
Millennials. Also known as Generation Y, are in their mid 20s to early 30s and are generally seen as confident, creative and independent. This group prefer to learn through experience rather than being told what to do. They don’t expect to stay in one job for their entire lives.
Generation Z. All grown up and preparing to enter workforce, the youngest generation in the workforce are already showing signs they are community-minded – globally and locally – and keen to make a difference. More than any other generation, Gen Z are plugged into digital technology in a big way – and they’re savvy to all of its nuances, tricks and opportunities.
The challenge for our labour market is to build a supportive system where employees have the opportunity to work together in meaningful ways that not only make the most of these difference but which also enable different generations to come together and recognise the value in their different perspectives.
The good news is there are a few tried and tested methods for managing intergenerational teams. One way is to provide opportunities for intergenerational mentoring programs.
The exchange of knowledge and skills between people of different ages is not new of course for example, apprenticeships. However, the focus here is those activities that seek to bring generations together for their mutual benefit.
Already across the globe there are some great examples of mentoring and coaching programs that actively bridge the generational divide at work, and beyond.
The Microsoft Academy of College Hires (MACH) program provides one-to-one opportunities for ‘reverse mentoring’, where Millenials and Gen X – the ‘digital natives’ who are new to the world of work, with completely different social behaviors and backgrounds, are coaching senior leaders on what the workplace should look like, what drives younger talent, and how to move forward. For mentors the benefits come through paying it forward, sharing insights, experiences and help to normalise positive relationships with younger employees in their organisation.
Pro Bono consulting organisation, Global Consulting Group (GCG) is disrupting the traditional pathway from university to work with a structure and strategy that connects industry and students, built on an intergenerational learning model. GCG connects people of different skills level and experience to provide a mutually beneficial opportunity.
Through GCG students gain on-the-job training to help kick-start their careers – giving them access to experts in the field, opportunities to build networks and exposure to working in the for purpose sector. On the flip side advisors have a rare opportunity to interact with university students, to understand their thinking and see just how capable, willing and ready they are to take on a challenge.
The benefits of this approach can also help diversify industries or sectors that typically appeal to a particular generational demographic. For example the Acorn Network’s five month mentor program is focused on improving industry diversity in aged care as a sector that typically attracts a older workers and can find attracting younger workers more difficult. Through a mentoring program which supports connections between senior leaders and young emerging professionals, the network works to build age diversity and break down barriers across the sector.
Intergenerational mentoring is a two way street, and done well, it can add unexpected perspective for both sides of the mentor-mentee relationship. This approach helps today’s leaders drive stronger business impact and gives tomorrow’s leaders an early peek at the view from the top. It’s a win-win!